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Genesis 39 Sermon – The Sinless Faithfulness of the Right Hand Man

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Genesis 39

2 The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered,

3 When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did,

4 Joseph found favour in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned.

5 From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field.

6 So he left in Joseph's care everything he had; with Joseph in charge,

22  ...But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warder.

22 So the warder put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there.

    23 The warder paid no attention to anything under Joseph's care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

Who is Joseph??!  He is a man who the LORD is with in a special way.  In Genesis 41 (v38) Pharaoh himself will notice it.  Joseph is full of the Spirit of God.  So the LORD is with him, he’s full of the Spirit.  He is a blessed man and a blessing.  That comes across in verse after verse.

The LORD prospers Joseph, and Joseph in turn makes everything else prosper.  And he does this as a right-hand-man.  Joseph is the ultimate right-hand-man – wherever he goes the men in power make him their number 2.  Whether it’s Potipher, or the prison warder, or later Pharaoh himself.  He is the ultimate right-hand-man.  And he has this Midas touch – whatever he touches turns to blessing.  Why?  Because he is uniquely blessed by God and filled with His Spirit.

Does Joseph remind you of anybody?

In a few chapter’s time, Joseph’s dad – Jacob – is going to prophesy this about the descendents of Joseph’s brother Judah.  He says:

10 The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.

Judah will give rise to a line of kings.  And the kings will pass the ruler’s staff from one king to the next, to the next.  Down the generations until – HE COMES TO WHOM IT BELONGS.  And that King will not just be the King of the Jews, He’ll be the King of the Nations.

The hope of the people was for God’s King to come as God’s right hand man and He would be in charge of EVERYTHING.  He is the Blessed One and the source of blessing for the whole world.  The Jews waited for Christ.  And in the meantime they could look at Joseph and get this miniature portrait of Christ in their midst.  Here is a right-hand-man, full of the Spirit and everything he rules over prospers.

Last week we saw Genesis 37 in which we are reassured that Joseph is NOT the sinless Saviour.  Joseph begins life as an arrogant upstart.  But now that his brothers have sold him into slavery and he’s had a bit of an education in the school of hard knocks, Joseph is coming along nicely...

And now in Genesis 39, he’s in a position to reveal to us even something of Christ’s own constant faithfulness.  In Genesis 39 the centre of the chapter is this temptation towards infidelity, but Joseph will show us something of the ardent, sinless faithfulness of Jesus.

In this chapter we’ll see him resist:

The temptation to sin


The temptation to despair


First, let’s see the temptation to sin.  And that’s verse 9:

Verse 9:  “My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?"

Verse 9 tells us both what’s wrong with this sexual temptation and how Joseph fights it.

Here’s what’s wrong: this woman belongs to her husband.  She does not belong to Joseph, therefore they should not have sex.

And that’s a key principle in the Christian sexual ethic.  Sex is about belonging.

When two bodies unite together, it’s more than bodies uniting, it’s persons who are uniting.  The two are becoming one flesh.  In sex a commitment is being made between two persons.  And the Bible says: Don’t give your body if you’re not also giving your life to the other person – for good.  Don’t take someone’s body if you’re not also receiving them into your life – for good.

If you take sex out of a life-long commitment you are splitting your body from yourself.  You’re saying – I’ll do one thing with my body, I’ll do something else with my life.  That’s what’s so damaging about sex outside marriage.  Sex is designed to unite two persons – but if it’s just used as a fun way of uniting two bodies you are splitting your body from your self.  It is deeply damaging.

So the Bible says: integrate your body with your life.  Live out in your body what is true in your life.  Marriage is the covenant relationship where two persons pledge their lives to each other.  If you don’t have a marriage union, don’t have a sexual union.  If you belong to someone else in marriage union, don’t give your body to anyone else.  And if this person belongs to someone else in marriage union, their body is not yours.  Sex is about belonging.

And actually Genesis 38 is a painful lesson in what happens when people take sex out of the context of marriage and belonging.

In Genesis 38 there’s the story of Judah and his daughter-in-law, Tamar.  In that chapter we see that sex and marriage really do belong together.  There are great problems when sex doesn’t happen in marriage (that’s the first half of the chapter).  And there are great problems when sex does happen outside marriage (that’s the second half of the chapter).  It gets so bad at the end of chapter 38 that Judah ends up having sex with his daughter-in-law and then as an excuse says “Oh, sorry, I didn’t know she was my daughter-in-law, she was veiled.  I thought she was a prostitute.”  It’s a shocking story.  And it’s deliberately placed in Genesis right before chapter 39 to show us the contrast between a wrong and a right sexual ethic.

So as we come to Genesis 39 we expect great things from Joseph.  Joseph – this miniature Christ-figure – is going to show us what Jesus would do when faced with sexual temptation.  And in verse 9 here we see how Joseph resists the temptation: He says:

“How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?"

That’s a very interesting reaction to temptation.  Think of all the reasons why Joseph might have resisted Potipher’s wife:

I’m just not that into you.

Your desperation is a real turn-off.

What if we get caught?

But you might get pregnant!

I might catch something.

I could never, I’m not that sort of person!

People often think that that’s a Christian response to temptation.  “I’m a Christian such sin is beneath me.”

I once heard a preacher from the States speak about a temptation he faced the night before speaking to a big conference.  He was in a hotel room and they offered the badly named “Adult Movies” – there’s nothing more infantile and childish than “Adult Movies.”  But, all credit to him, this man confessed to the conference the temptation he felt – all alone, far from home, nothing else to do.  But he announced to the conference how he resisted the temptation.  What he did was to speak out loud to the temptation – “I refuse to speak at a Christian conference as the guy who watched pornography the night before.”

Now it’s great that he resisted the temptation.  But how did he resist?  He considered himself to be better than sin.

I suggest to you that the Christian approach to temptation is not to declare yourself better than sin.  I am not better than sin.  Sin is not beneath my dignity.  Because actually my dignity is pretty much in the gutter.  I can pretend differently, I might even fool myself.  But I am not better than sin.  Christ is.

In the wilderness of temptation, sin offers me a bucket of salt.  And salt is savoury.  It’s full of flavour.  It packs a punch.  It can seem more appealing than boring water.  And for a second it tastes of life.  But actually it’s a taste of death.  All the while Jesus offers me the living waters of His Spirit.

Jeremiah 2:13 says this:

"My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own wells, broken wells that cannot hold water.”

In every temptation there are TWO sins that are on offer.  The first and ultimate sin, is forsaking the LORD, the Spring of Living Waters.  Christ is a Fountain of Life, He gushes forth the Holy Spirit as a free gift.  And every sin I ever commit is because first of all I have closed myself off from His living waters.  And instead I have sought life in this broken well – and my broken well might be one kind of sin, and your broken well might be another kind of sin.  But to resist the temptation that this broken well is offering me, what do I need to do?  Don’t look inward to find the will-power to say no.  Look outward to the LORD the Fountain of Living Waters.

You are not better than sin.  But the LORD Jesus is!

And this is how Joseph combats the temptation.  He does not look within for the self-control required to suppress his desire for her.  He looks outside himself to increase his desire for God.  His self-control is not so much a matter of will-power but of heart-power.  Because the LORD really is better than sin.

So Joseph says to this broken well – you’re not my life.  The LORD is my life.  How can I choose a bucket of salt over the Fountain of Living Waters? How can I do that!?

And having made that stand, he follows it up, verse 10.  He keeps out of her way.  And then in verse 12 when the temperature was turned way up on Joseph, he runs.  You know it’s never too late in any temptation just to run.  You could be naked and it’s still better to run...

Paul picks up on this image of Joseph “fleeing sexual immorality” in 1 Corinthians 6.

15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, The two will become one flesh. 17 But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. 19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.

Do you see how sex is a matter of belonging here?  And first of all Paul says we belong to Jesus.  Verse 20 – we are not our own, we have been purchased.  The blood of God has been shed for us.  We belong to Jesus.  Like in a marriage, the dowry has been paid, our Heavenly Husband has pledged Himself to us and we are not our own.  Now we have Christ’s name, His status, His royal connections, His future inheritance.  We belong to Jesus – one Spirit with Him.

But the horror of sexual sin is that we drag Jesus into it.  The Christian who visits the brothel takes Jesus with them.  This is a stunning teaching.  We usually imagine that Jesus would be united to us as long as we’re good boys and girls.  But the minute we headed for the brothel we imagine that Jesus would remain outside the door, fuming at us and tapping His foot, thinking – Just you wait till I get you home.  No, Paul says we are so united to Jesus that we bring Him into the brothel.  We are are in this house of ill-repute even as we are a House of the Holy Spirit.  And yet this member of Christ, this temple of the Holy Spirit is being desecrated by sexual sin.  And you think how horrible!

And Paul says, Yes I know.  Therefore flee.  Flee.  But notice what makes the sin so horrible.  Sexual sin is horrible NOT because it stops Jesus loving you.  Sexual sin is horrible because you are doing it IN the very grip of His committed marital love.

I once spoke to a Christian man who had an affair many years ago.  At one point in our conversation he told me one of his favourite hymns was “King of Kings” because it has that line “In royal robes I don’t deserve.”  That’s the Christian.  We are robed in the royal righteousness of Christ though we don’t deserve it.  As we spoke of his sexual sins I said to him: “You know that in the midst of that sin you were clothed by Christ in royal robes of righteousness.”  He started to cry and said “That makes it a hundred times worse.”  And that’s true isn’t it.  The horror of sin is not that Christ stops loving us.  The horror of sin is that we do it in defiance of His constant love.

You might think: Glen, you can’t tell people Jesus loves them anyway, it’ll make them want to sin.  The exact opposite is the case.

What I’m saying is this: Jesus is always offering His face towards us.  When we strike Him, He turns the other cheek.  And He keeps on offering His love, offering His face, drawing near.  Now when you really understand the love of Christ like that, does that make you want to slap Him again?  Do you say: “It doesn’t matter, He’ll just turn the other cheek.”  Exactly, therefore how can you slap Him again?

Or put it this way: think of two couples.  One husband says to his wife: “I love you when you serve me, but when you step out of line, you will receive stony-faced criticisms until you get your act together. And don’t even think of cheating on me, because I’ll be checking, constantly, and I’ll find out.  The minute you cheat – you’re gone.  I’ll change the locks, it’s curtains for you, missy.  The other husband says “I will love you for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health.  When I say ‘I will’, I mean it – and nothing, not even your worst sins, will ever separate you from my love.”

Who is more likely to cheat on their husband?  The first wife – every time.  That first couple might look like they have it together.  But all those conditions on his love have killed the relationship.  And because the love is gone, the wife will have nothing to fight temptation with.  Temptation is fought with heart-power not will-power.  And the heart won’t rest until it is securely loved.

We need to know the secure love of Jesus.  Love that is stronger than our sin.  And better than our sin.  Better than a one-night stand.  Better than an affair.  Better than marrying that non-Christian.  Better than pornography.  Those are buckets of salt.  Jesus is a Fountain of Living Waters.  And He loves you.

How can you sin against that love?  So avoid temptation.  (Are there websites you need to avoid?  Are there people you need to avoid?  Are there places you need to avoid?  Are there times of the day when you need to call it quits and stop hanging around with certain people?)  Flee temptation.  Not because you’re better than sin.  You’re not.  You and I are fools, falling for the buckets of salt all the time.  But Jesus gushes with life.  He offers His face in friendship again.  Don’t look within to suppress your temptations.  Look out to Him and have your heart won again.

That’s resisting the temptation to sin.

What about the second temptation – resisting the temptation to despair.

This is vital for two reasons.  The first is: And this is just quietly between you and me.  “I don’t always resist temptation.”  There, I said it.  The cat’s out of the bag!  I don’t just need tools to help me not to sin.  The toothpaste is out of the tube.  I have sinned.  And I’m going to sin again.  I don’t want to, but it happens.  And it’s going to keep happening until I die.  I don’t so much need tactics to manage sin avoidance.  I need a gospel that sets me on my feet again.

Here’s what happens to me when I’m tempted.  Essentially the devil says to me “Go on, do it, it’s nothing, no-one will mind and Jesus will always forgive you anyway.”  Isn’t that strange by the way, the devil uses the love of Jesus as a reason to sin against Him?  Essentially he says “Jesus is so amazingly loving, constantly turning His face towards you in kindness, why don’t you slap His face!?”  And we go, good idea devil.

And instantly, once we’ve succumbed, the devil switches tactics. Now he says “Dear oh dear.  You’ve done it now.  You’ve just exhausted the love and forgiveness of Jesus.  That’s it.  No more grace for you.  You’re going to have to mope around on the outskirts of God’s presence for a good fortnight now.”  And again we believe the devil, we go into a spiritual sulk – we wallow in despair!

And at that point we need to realise that, ultimately, WE are not Joseph in this story.  ULTIMATELY we are not Joseph.  Joseph is playing the part of Jesus here isn’t he – the faithful, righteous, blessed, right-hand-man.  When we sin we prove one thing: We are not Jesus.  So once we realise we are not Jesus, who are we in this story?  Whose shoes should a sinner put themselves into in this story?  Not Joseph’s, but Joseph’s brothers.  Remember Joseph’s brothers?  Turn to Genesis 50.

These brothers did more than slap Joseph in the face, they beat him and left him for dead.  They sold him into slavery.  But at the end of the story, this suffering servant becomes exalted to the right hand of the throne of Egypt, to bless the world.  Put yourself in the shoes of these brothers.  The one they left for dead, now rules the world and holds their lives in his hands.  How do you feel?

Read verse 15:

15 When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?" 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, "Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 `This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.' Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father." When their message came to him, Joseph wept. 18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. "We are your slaves," they said. 19 But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

I won’t say much about this, because we’re studying it later.  But notice how the brothers were tempted to despair.  They didn’t want to approach Joseph because, How could they receive anything but judgement from him?  And then when they do approach him they make up some lie and try to self-justify.  Joseph sees through it all and he says “God has used even your worst sins to serve His good purposes.  And I will provide for you, I will reassure you, I will be kind to you.”

Friends, that’s what Jesus is like – times a million.  That’s what Jesus is like towards sinners like you.  We always think, we’d better not approach Jesus because He’ll condemn us. We’d better let Him cool off, give it about a week before we pray again.  No.  Cut the wallowing, cut the sulking, cut the despair.  Come to Christ again, sinner that you are, and allow Him to reassure you and speak kindly to you again.

That’s one kind of wallowing to resist – wallowing in sin.  But back in Genesis 39, there’s another kind of wallowing that Joseph resists.  He resists the temptation to wallow in despair.

Poor old Joseph has had it very rough.  In Genesis 37 he was a bit of a jerk, let’s face it, and he ended up in the pit.  He didn’t deserve to end up in a pit, but he was an arrogant jerk and, to some degree, he brought it on himself.

Now in Genesis 39 he did everything right and he still ends up in the pit.

Do you know how frustrating that is?  You do everything wrong and you end up flat on your face.  You do everything right and you end up flat on your face.

When suffering hits and it’s not your fault, how do you resist the temptation to despair?

20 Joseph's master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined. But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warder. 22 So the warder put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warder paid no attention to anything under Joseph's care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

Notice that twice in three verses it says “The LORD was with Joseph.”  Suffering is not a sign the LORD has left you.  The LORD is WITH Joseph in suffering.

And we know this to be true because Joseph’s LORD took on Joseph’s role.  The LORD Jesus descended into our pit didn’t He?  The ultimate Right-Hand-Man, the Blessed King became a servant, and worse – a criminal; and worse – a blasphemer; and worse – an accursed, bleeding victim on the cross.  He has entered into it all.  Suffering is not a sign the LORD has left us.   The LORD enters in to the depths of our suffering.  And He is known BEST in the pit.  The Suffering Christ is known best in suffering.  Are you suffering?  God has not abandoned you.  If you’re in the pit right now, you are treading the path of Jesus.  And if you’re a Christian, you are treading it WITH Jesus and IN Jesus.  Don’t just come to Christ in your sin, come to Him in your suffering.  He will reassure you and speak kindly to you.  And in the end, the sun will rise, the Righteous King will rule in unopposed glory.  The earth will be Cosmically Blessed through God’s Right Hand Man.  The nations will gather and we will see Him face to face.

In the meantime, we are free. Free to resist sin.  And free to resist despair.  For the ultimate Joseph has been raised from the pit, and His destiny is our destiny.

0 thoughts on “Genesis 39 Sermon – The Sinless Faithfulness of the Right Hand Man

  1. mande

    Hello Glen,

    one point, which may have not been in your focus while you wrote your sermon, looks interesting. You have cited out of Genesis 49:

    In a few chapter’s time, Joseph’s dad – Jacob – is going to prophesy this about the descendents of Joseph’s brother Judah. He says:

    10 The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.

    An interesting point is, that in verse 10 it is clearly stated, that before the prophesied messiah (in the original text something like: the one of Shiloh) will come, the sceptre had to be departed from Judah; a converse argument relating to that verse. So that's the reason why in John 18:31 the jews told Pilate that it was not lawful for them to put someone to death.

    Your sermon has an other intention, but nevertheless I would like to mention the above.

    Have a blessed time in Jesus the Christ

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